Three years ago this fall, Burnaby Mountain became a flashpoint in the cross-Canada battle against the Conservative government of Stephen Harper and its aggressive pro-pipeline agenda.
In late 2014, the Texas-based multinational Kinder Morgan began carrying out test drilling for their proposed Trans Mountain expansion project. This supposed “twinning” of an existing pipeline from northern Alberta to B.C.’s Pacific coast is in fact a huge new pipeline project that would massively increase the amount of tar sands bitumen being shipped to the West Coast for export.
The new pipeline was and is steadfastly opposed by Lower Mainland residents, local First Nations, as well as a broad coalition of environmentalists and concerned citizens across B.C. No surprise, then, that the 2014 exploratory work by Kinder Morgan was met with fierce resistance: a protest camp was established, daily demonstrations were held, and in the end over 100 people were arrested for civil disobedience challenging the company’s work.
Any day now, Kinder Morgan is set to again begin work in and around Burnaby Mountain: at their terminal on Burrard Inlet; at their tank farm near Simon Fraser University; and on the preparatory work for a tunnel through the mountain itself. As soon as the work begins, there are bound to be mobilizations of various kinds to try and stop or delay it.
So the stage is set for the sequel to the Battle for Burnaby Mountain. And even though Kinder Morgan won approval for its pipeline from Justin Trudeau, who broke a key election-campaign promise to B.C. residents by not ordering a redo of the pipeline’s National Energy Board process, this time the terrain in many ways favours the anti-pipeline activists.
That’s because, first and foremost, there is a new B.C. government in place. In July, an NDP-led government came to power with the support of the three Green Party MLAs. In August, the new environment minister and the new attorney general, George Heyman and David Eby, held a press conference at which they announced that the provincial government would be seeking intervenor status in First Nations’ lawsuits aimed at stopping the pipeline. They also announced the hiring of veteran lawyer and former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Berger to advise the government on the matter. What’s more, they ordered that for now no work can take place on public land.
So Kinder Morgan can only move forward on their privately-held lands, which include their terminal and tank farm in Burnaby. This location – within Metro Vancouver with its large population and politicians at the municipal, provincial and federal levels who are fiercely opposed to the pipeline – is favourable terrain for the multifaceted movement aiming to stop the mega-project by any means necessary.
If and when shovels hit the ground in Burnaby, there will no doubt be actions on land and in the water to oppose the work. Thousands have signed pledges to conduct acts of nonviolent civil disobedience to stop the project. And local First Nations leaders, who have an unimpeachable moral case against Kinder Morgan as well as strong legal cases, have made it clear they will not back down. If the pipeline barons in Texas insist on pushing forward with this pipeline, B.C. will likely see the largest mass arrests since the Clayoquot Sound protests in the early 1990s. Back then there was also a B.C. NDP government in power, but this time the provincial government has committed to backing the opposition to industry’s plans for the coast.
The mainstream media prefers to frame the Kinder Morgan dispute as a case of two NDP-led provincial governments at loggerheads over an issue, especially since Rachel Notley’s Alberta NDP has doubled down on their push for the pipeline. But the fight against Kinder Morgan is far more than that, and its implications go to the very heart of the settler-colonial project that is Canada and its history of dispossession and plunder of First Nations and their land.
B.C. is mostly unceded territory, and yet here in this post-Harper era of reconciliation we have a distant federal government trying to ram through a mega-project rejected by key Indigenous nations.
Part two of the Battle of Burnaby Mountain will no doubt make these contradictions clear. This is a time to choose sides, if you haven’t already. It’s time to stand with First Nations, and with all those who want to defend our chances of maintaining a livable planet, against a hypocritical federal government and the fossil fuel profiteers they’re serving.